Albany City Attorney Nathan Davis acquainted citizens with changes in Georgia's Sunshine Laws at a Town Hall meeting Saturday (Oct. 27, 2012).
ALBANY, Ga. -- The 2012 General Assembly passed some rules to facilitate more transparency in government to the benefit of citizens, Albany City Attorney Nathan Davis said Saturday.
Davis spoke to an interested crowd of more than 20 at City Commissioner Jon Howard's monthly Town Hall meeting in the East Albany Community Center, 1721 E. Oglethorpe Blvd.
"We go by the laws of Georgia, which forbid us from doing certain things behind closed doors," Howard said. "There are some things that we can do, like property acquisition negotiation so we can get a fair price for the taxpayer, and hire a city manager."
The closed door sessions are called "executive sessions." Davis said that under the new rules, minutes must be kept of discussion. They must become public record after the actions of the commission or board are final.
Previously, incomplete notes of what was discussed and no record of the discussion was required. Now discussions are to be recorded in minutes.
The executive session must be limited to the selected topic of discussion. Davis said this means the leader of the executive session must monitor more closely the talk during the session and set limits.
"Don't worry, I've got a gavel," said Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, to the genial laughter of the audience.
Although the Water Gas and Light Commission has been following the rules for elected bodies regarding open meetings and open records, Davis said it is now required to do so under the law. The same goes for the school board and any charitable organizations that receive a third of their funding from government sources, he added.
According to a handout by Davis, requests for paperwork can be made orally, by letter, note and email. The law requires the agency from which the documents are requested to respond within three days.
In a new action, the law allows a government body to conduct interviews in hiring an "executive head," for example a city manager, in open session.
"This is very significant and it will be interesting to see if any government bodies adapt that approach," Davis said. "It would allow citizens to see the give and take during the interviews that you miss."
The new law also brings meetings more into the 21st century by allowing a limited participation by teleconference. The law allows an official two teleconference participations under conditions that include a physical presence of a quorum by the other officials.
Davis said the new law better serves the public in making government transaction public. He invited questions to his office at (229) 431-2805.
Tommy Gregors, executive director of the Thronateeska Heritage Center, was on hand to outline how his organization is preserving past records and will continue to act as a city archiving service so records will be available to residents.